By Scott Yaich, Ph.D.
DU's habitat projects not only produce ducks but also provide important public-hunting opportunities
Imagine asking a group of young Ducks Unlimited Greenwings the seemingly simple question, “What's the most important ingredient in a duck hunt?” A chorus of answers would ring out, the most common probably being “DUCKS!” This would provide a “teaching moment” to explain that, yes, indeed, there would be no duck hunting if North America's breeding grounds didn't generate a steady supply of ducks and other waterfowl. The youngsters would come to understand the reason why DU's mission has always focused on conserving waterfowl habitat.
Some clever Greenwing in the group might say, with a wry smile, the most important ingredient to a duck hunt is a “duck hunter.” By definition, of course, he'd be right. But, you could press him further by pointing out that there's a basic ingredient beyond ducks, decoys, guns, shells, dogs, and all the usual duck hunting paraphernalia. “What is that fundamental ingredient?” you challenge. If our Greenwing is really bright, he might think a minute before his face brightens with enlightenment as he shouts, “A place to hunt!”
In many ways, he would be right. Everything else is secondary if you don't have a place to go hunting. Thirteen million people 16 and older hunted in the United States in 2001. Most (57 percent) hunted exclusively on private land, but 14 percent hunted only on public land while another 25 percent hunted on both. Thus, public land provided more than 5 million hunters a place to hunt, and almost 2 million depended on it.
The future of hunting depends, in other critical ways, on having places to hunt. There were a million fewer adult hunters in 2001 than in 1991. The decline among younger hunters is of even greater concern in the long run. Hunters from age 12 through 17 decreased from 2.7 million to 2 million between 1990 and 2000, while the number of hunters from age 6 through 11 fell by 20 percent. A 2004 report revealed that 22 percent of hunters (the second-highest percentage) indicated that access to public land is one of the most important issues facing hunting today. Access to hunting opportunity was the highest-ranked cause of dissatisfaction among hunters. Providing hunting opportunity, particularly on public lands, is clearly a significant concern to hunters and of great importance to the future of hunting.
Although DU's primary mission is to conserve North America's waterfowl habitats, the second part of the mission statement says, “These habitats also benefit other wildlife and people.” Fortunately, in addition to producing ducks, many DU habitat projects also provide places to hunt ducks and other game. DU currently owns about 20,000 acres in the United States, mostly in South Dakota and other Great Plains states. Almost all the land DU owns is open to the public for walk-in hunting by permission through the Great Plains Regional Office.